The Adler School social media team is blogging with updates and reaction throughout the next two days (Sept. 19-2o) from “The Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health: Paving the Way Forward” in Chicago, hosted by the Adler School Institute on Social Exclusion. Posts are written by attendees, each summarizing speakers, presentations and observations from the conference. Follow more conversation on Twitter (#ISE2012).
Liam Downey [Associate, Environmental Studies Program, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado] specializes his work and research on environmental inequality. Today, he presented research that links residential proximity to industrial activity. Feelings of fear and powerlessness are predictors of psychological distress; mitigating them would lead to improved health.
Downey’s causal model of the relationship between industrial activity and powerlessness, disorder, and depression was applied in his 1995 study of Illinois and his 2008 study of the greater Detroit area. Using data from the U.S. Census, surveys, and the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), he found that proximity to industrial activity had a direct, positive association with psychological distress.
Even though the data is highly suggestive and preliminary, it strongly suggests that living in neighborhoods with high levels of pollution leads to psychological problems that differ in terms of gender and race. Better measures of industrial activity and respondents’ perceptions need to be identified, but the need for collaboration among sociologists, geographers, and other environmental inequality researchers is apparent.
Frances Kuo [Associate Professor and Director, Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] discussed nature in the city as an overlooked factor in urban mental health. She referenced [American journalist, social critic, public administrator, and landscape designer] Frederick Law Olmstead, who believed that the respite and scenery that parks offer are essential to the physical and mental health of city residents–not only for the wealthy, but for everyone. Correlations between nature and the following factors were presented:
- Sadness, clinical depression
- Stress, anxiety disorders
- Mental fatigue, ADHD
- Aggression, violence
- Loneliness, isolation
The impact of green space in cities is large. Trees are the city’s lungs. However, people must experience nature through first-hand exposure. A patch of grass in the neighbor’s yard is not enough. As a new, partial explanation for income-related mental health disparities, increasing natural aspects in the city may be a possible, relatively inexpensive, population-level mental health intervention.
- Dana Whitt, Adler School of Professional Psychology